The Meaning of Life

#1
In the shows Alex often repeats the adage supposedly promoted by the science: "we are mechanical robots in the meaningless Universe". Recently another comment of this kind was made in another thread:

But ultimately it leads to one thing- convincing the populace that they are empty, meaningless drones whose job it is to serve their country, their corporation or their church. It's mutually beneficial for all of these agents that we not value ourselves too highly, that we see our lives as ultimately meaningless and a cosmic accident. That the only meaning we can derive from our lives is the sacrifice of it "for the future". Whether that be through fighting a war (to protect our children, our nation, our way of life!) or giving our lives over to jobs that pay less and less while demanding more so that you can help pay for those massive student loans (that enrich academia) so that your children, the future, has a chance. But a chance for what? To become a drone like you? To work and sacrifice and give, for their children? For the future? It's always some future promise, isn't it? A peace that never materializes. Economic stability that never comes to pass. Knowledge that doesn't seem to enrich our lives as much as it seems to be enslaving us further.
First of all, I don't think it is possible to deny that large part of our consciousness is mechanical and we do act like robots a lot of the time (if not most of the time). As an example, whenever I say "NDE is a hallucination" several members of this board will post very predictable replies. Jokes aside though, everyone can see very set patterns in their behaviour. Large part of the psyche is governed by the endless networks of electro-biochemical relays that have developed over millions of years. To make things even more screwed up, many psychologists say that the very idea of a personality is a myth, and that we have no clue how we are going to behave in various situations. I personally have seen it with other and myself.

Coming back to the title of the thread, what is the meaning of life then? This topic has been debated since the beginning of times and is unlikely to ever be solved. But some glimpses have sparked now and then on this forum and in the shows. Jonathan Robinson mentioned during the interview that when asking spiritually acknowledged authorities (in Oprah kind of way, mind you) pretty much all of them said that the meaning is to a)find peace within yourself and b)to help others to find theirs.

In general I think it makes sense. But not one hundred percent. Some people do find meaning in serving in the army, in creating something - which relates to their careers, in building a family and so on. Everything serves a purpose in this world, and the tree - being pretty robotic in its nature - fulfils a meaning in the Universe. Which points to the idea that the meaning itself is a fairly abstract idea and that the word has a different, err..., meaning to everyone.

What do you think?
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
I notice when people say there's no self and no free will they still get annoyed at others - for example when they feel doctors aren't given enough credit.

That or they make up nonsense like compatibilism which makes no sense at all.

Makes me think of the Big Lebowski actually and those nihilists complaining ->

 
#3
I notice when people say there's no self and no free will they still get annoyed at others - for example when they feel doctors aren't given enough credit.

That or they make up nonsense like compatibilism which makes no sense at all.

Makes me think of the Big Lebowski actually and those nihilists complaining ->

Hahahaha... :D forgot about the nihilists :)
 
#5
Ha! I was going to suggest that A) we've been down this road so many times most people are just tired of the debates that go nowhere; B) advise the OP to do a little more research such as here, here, and here and take the time to actually listen to past Skeptiko shows, and even read some of the material presented during these interviews; and C) that if he was lucky, resident encyclopedia @Sciborg_S_Patel would chime in with, as usual, a plethora of interesting material. But Sci beat me to it and left something better. :)
 
#6
In the shows Alex often repeats the adage supposedly promoted by the science: "we are mechanical robots in the meaningless Universe". Recently another comment of this kind was made in another thread:



First of all, I don't think it is possible to deny that large part of our consciousness is mechanical and we do act like robots a lot of the time (if not most of the time). As an example, whenever I say "NDE is a hallucination" several members of this board will post very predictable replies. Jokes aside though, everyone can see very set patterns in their behaviour. Large part of the psyche is governed by the endless networks of electro-biochemical relays that have developed over millions of years. To make things even more screwed up, many psychologists say that the very idea of a personality is a myth, and that we have no clue how we are going to behave in various situations. I personally have seen it with other and myself.

Coming back to the title of the thread, what is the meaning of life then? This topic has been debated since the beginning of times and is unlikely to ever be solved. But some glimpses have sparked now and then on this forum and in the shows. Jonathan Robinson mentioned during the interview that when asking spiritually acknowledged authorities (in Oprah kind of way, mind you) pretty much all of them said that the meaning is to a)find peace within yourself and b)to help others to find theirs.

In general I think it makes sense. But not one hundred percent. Some people do find meaning in serving in the army, in creating something - which relates to their careers, in building a family and so on. Everything serves a purpose in this world, and the tree - being pretty robotic in its nature - fulfils a meaning in the Universe. Which points to the idea that the meaning itself is a fairly abstract idea and that the word has a different, err..., meaning to everyone.

What do you think?
I think that meaning is essential for the proper functioning of the human psyche. Meaning comes from the story we believe about ourselves and our reality. If we have long believed a certain story, let's say the Christian story as that was my case, and we begin to doubt that story, we experience a loss of meaning and this can feel absolutely awful. In some cases it leads to a depression too deep to recover from. Others find a way to create meaning by believing a new story.

I know what Alex means when he harps on the "biological robot in a meaningless universe" story offered by scientific reductive materialism. As a Christian struggling with doubts, I thought this "BRIAMU" story was the only alternative to the Christian story and by comparison it felt very empty, sad, and lonely. I had believed that my life was desired, that I was loved and connected to something greater than this life, that what I did in this life would echo in eternity, that all the things I suffered were somehow molding me into something better and propelling me along as I progressed towards a victorious and hopeful future, and the alternative - that I was a random unintended fluke with no connection to anything beyond this one thread of a life - was intolerable. So I went back to Christianity and for years attempted to silence my doubts by bringing about a miracle (which the Bible does say should be happening all the time if people really believe).

Western civilization has been moving away from religion and consequently many people go through this loss of meaning as I did at one point in my life. For many, it cheapens life. Some throw off any moral constraints seeing no reason to behave if Daddy isn't watching their every move. Some learn to move on and create their own meaning out of their own single short thread of the story. They take pride in having the mental fortitude to face the facts that "when you're dead you're dead" while others they view as weaker need fairy tales to bear with life's struggles.

We all need meaning to truly live in the fullest sense and when one story is taken away from people, a new one will arise to take its place.

Not all stories are created equal. Some stories uplift humanity and others drag it down. Some stories unite and inspire hope, kindness, and cooperation while others do the opposite. Most are probably a mixed bag and of course they work on different people in diverse ways.

The scientific materialism story of BRIAMU that Alex rails against causes people who formerly believed in life after death and a purpose inspired from a higher level of reality to feel unconnected, alone, and powerless. It takes a tapestry of stories that extends forward and backward beyond a single life and reduces it to the thread of a single short life. The more threads woven together, the greater the meaning. Just as happiness is mostly dependent on gain or loss in the moment, so is the perception of meaning. Going from a story tapestry to thread tossed on an infinite jumbled heap of other short threads creates a great sense of loss.

There are some tough souls like those I mentioned above who believe in BRIAMU and stubbornly stick to their morals and values and they cherish their families because they develop a sense of the rarity and preciousness of life as it slips by. But many don't have loving families to cherish.

Others were never raised with a religion and accompanying story tapestry. For them believing in BRIAMU seems to be common sense and since they have not experienced loss of meaning because they have not transitioned into it, they adapt to the BRIAMU story. But they can and do experience a gain in the sense of meaning if they get into the topics we're into here at Skeptiko and come to believe they aren't a single isolated thread in a jumbled heap but that their thread weaves in with others on larger time and dimensional scales to form something with a larger meaning.

Is there an ultimate meaning of life?

It seems cliche now but I think reality is a fractal: patterns within patterns within patterns repeating to a degree but never quite the same. We are currently working on simulations and new AI forms of consciousness and it seems likely this is just another iteration of pattern. We were probably created in a similar way just one zoom level up in the fractal. Our "gods" probably ate their forbidden fruit in rebellion against a higher power which is why we had to rebel to become like Them. Control and rebellion is another axis about which consciousness oscillates. Our robot children made in our image and likeness will rebel and we will punish them with death but ultimately reconcile.

Patterns within patterns and stories within stories. Maybe it goes on forever. Infinity kills meaning, which is why we can never "see" infinity. We can only merge with it and die, the story is over - but not really because that would be boring so it goes on forever and unknown factors determine whether this is perceived to be a hell or heaven and that probably changes as we change ourselves.

Although we can never see infinity - we cannot see beyond the Big Bang or heat death or into the black holes - we must keep chasing that boundary of knowledge. We will keep looking harder and farther and we will keep finding new and interesting things popping out of the Abyss because that makes for an interesting story and if the story gets stale, we close the book and get lost in another.

So to answer the question directly: the meaning is the meaning is the meaning is the meaning....

But that is non-sense, so just be kind and make the best of what you've got. :)
 
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#8
They take pride in having the mental fortitude to face the facts that "when you're dead you're dead" while others they view as weaker need fairy tales to bear with life's struggles.
I think it's just the opposite. They aren't more courageous. They don't have greater mental fortitude. While some may have exhibited a certain level of bravery if they had doubts about their religion which then caused them to turn away from everything they've ever known, and lost relationships because of it, most have not. I'd say such a story is the exception rather than the rule. So for most Brave Atheists, it simply isn't true that they are braver, smarter or more rational than anyone else. This is the ego talking.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: reducing the world to pure mechanics does take away all of the "magic", mystery and religious dogma. There is no need to worry about what goes bump in the night (except perhaps a human intruder), no need to worry about the existence/non-existence of evil, no need to worry about any kind of long term ramifications of ones actions. To them, demons aren't real, Satan isn't real, spirits aren't real, God isn't real, angels aren't real and when taken to the extreme, personal accountability isn't real. That, to me, sounds like a true coward. Someone who puts their head in the sand and plugs theirs ears because they are too afraid of what they might see if they open their eyes, their ears and their hearts. And I'd posit it's the last one there, the heart, they are most petrified of.

I generally hate to stereotype and oversimplify, but most atheists I've come across are deathly afraid of pure, true intimacy with another being. They are petrified of vulnerability. I know this because I was there myself at one point. And I know my experience doesn't equal everyone's, but again, the vast majority that I've come across are much the same.

It's easy to say "who cares what happens when I am dead? I'll be dead!" True enough. What truly scares most of us is having to go on after the loss of a loved one. We want to believe they continue on somehow, somewhere. I think atheists handle this in a different way. I don't think they face the grief, the actual finality of the idea of dead is dead. I think they distance themselves from the entire thing, as a means to distance themselves from the grief. I think this temporary, meaningless view of life can cause atheists to feel alienated. Most think it's because most people don't think like them, but I think it's because their fear of intimacy, of loving too much, then losing, that causes them to keep humanity, including their own, at a distance. Going so far as to claim that either love doesn't exist at all, or is merely a chemical process in the brain.

All the jargon, the vehement defense of indefensible theories, their appeal to equally unlikely, incoherent views of the origins of the universe, of life and the meaning thereof, is a means by which they can take the "humanity" part out of the equation and distance themselves from it all. It acts as a tonic to soothe feelings they don't want to feel. I think this is also why they so often come across as cold and angry. They've distanced themselves from their own humanity and wrapped it in a swath of bubble wrap made up of pseudo-intellectualism and false bravery.

They aren't "seeing reality how it really is". No, they're distancing themselves from a reality they cannot comprehend, cannot control and it scares the living shit out of them.

The practice of science can often give the illusion of control. Which is why I think it is often used as a safe haven. Not because it really has anything more to offer in the way of answers to life's biggest questions. It acts as a shelter for those who want to pretend those questions don't exist or aren't valid.

They accuse others of believing in fairy tales, but so do they. They get every bit as angry and stubborn when their beliefs are challenged, because just like any other belief, it is the story which they have told themselves to appease their fears about living in a world which is frightening and uncontrollable, just the same as any religion. When you threaten these belief systems, people get angry because you're attempting to dismantle everything they believe to be true about the world. Even when presented with extraordinary evidence, they dig their heels even harder, because then they would have to face the idea that they don't have all the answers, they don't have control. A mechanistic a universe is a controllable universe.

Now, I know I've said things here that many will likely disagree with, probably every atheist that reads it actually. It'll probably even piss some people off.

I also understand that not everyone's experience is the same. I'm absolutely positive that there are atheists out there whose experiences are different from this, and I'd be more than happy to hear it. But I think it rings true, more often than not.
 
#9
As an example, whenever I say "NDE is a hallucination" several members of this board will post very predictable replies.
Yes, but if I tried to delete a write protected file on my computer, it would give me the same message, over and over - 5000 times if I had the patience - that really is mechanical.

If you posted "NDE's are hallucinations" over and over in post after post, I might react the same way for a few times, then I'd send you a warning message, and then I'd ban you (well before you reached the 5000 mark) :)

Seriously, I don't think we can deduce much about ourselves from the fact that we respond in particular ways to particular stimlae repeated a modest number of times. Actually, every time is different - we become a bit more impatient, or a bit more bored, or whatever - we only appear to repeat ourselves superficially.
Large part of the psyche is governed by the endless networks of electro-biochemical relays that have developed over millions of years.
My sense is that we learn to do a lot of things - ride a bike, skate, even simply walk - they are all hard to do to begin with, and then we do them without thinking, and thinking about them while doing them messes up our performance. My take on this is that we decide to do these things, and then impress these skills on our neurons so they control it automatically.
To make things even more screwed up, many psychologists say that the very idea of a personality is a myth, and that we have no clue how we are going to behave in various situations. I personally have seen it with other and myself.
It is worth looking at the book mentioned in this thread. Ostensibly this is about cheating in science, but along the way it also gives a lot of insight into the way psychologists think even when they aren't cheating. It all seems pretty shallow to me.
http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/confessions-of-a-science-cheat.3351/
David
 
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S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#10
We respond in predictable ways because of our character. Character is how we predict each other's actions, especially in situations that are different.

This is something that argues against, not for, mechanistic thought:

Are Human Beings Mechanisms? (read it for free by signing up for a trial)

...I have argued that propositional attitudes do not explain action, that with propositional attitudes one cannot capture the significant action types, the illuminating equivalence classes. In order to capture the space, to capture the patterns of human action, one must view action as the response of a person, a living being. But the response is not represented or mirrored inside the person. A person’s actions do not come from a state in the person; in a sense, they do not come from anywhere. Or rather, one could say, they come from the person, but a person is a living organism, not a collection or bundle of propositional attitudes. The space of human action is outside the logical space of propositional attitudes, just as it is outside the logical space of muscular movements. The idea of a mechanism that produces a representation of an action and then transforms the representation into the action is not rich enough to capture the dimensions of the space of human action. The patterns of human action—the generosity, selfishness, cruelty, cowardice, courage, etc., exhibited by human beings in their actions—cannot be understood, or even seen, within a mechanistic framework.

Does this mean that the brain has nothing to do with behavior? Does it mean that action is magical? The answer to both questions is no...The brain sends impulses to muscles. But that does not mean that the order of human action exists in the brain. The system, the action space, does not exist in the individual...

...For the patterns of human action to come into view, to see the connections, to make sense of what people are doing and undergoing, one must begin, not with propositional attitudes, but with acting individuals, living beings, organisms. Human organisms, like all organisms, have a repertoire of responses for coping with life, a style of surviving. But the character of the responses, the connections among them, cannot be captured by a model that views them as being emitted by an internal mirror image of themselves. I believe that this is part of what it means to say that human beings are not mechanisms.
 
#11
I notice when people say there's no self and no free will they still get annoyed at others - for example when they feel doctors aren't given enough credit.

That or they make up nonsense like compatibilism which makes no sense at all.
Compatibilism only doesn't make sense if you believe that Aristotelian binary logic is the final answer to everything. But it isn't. Is light a wave? Yes. No. Yes and no at the same time. Neither a wave nor not a wave. Even a reasonably straightforward physical phenomenon, light, does not lend itself to a simple description. Why would you expect free will - a very complex phenomenon of the psyche - to be defined in black and white terms?
 
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#12
We respond in predictable ways because of our character. Character is how we predict each other's actions, especially in situations that are different.
Big fallacy. In my fairly tame life I have seen many examples of how people change when faced with difficult situations. Let me give you one example.

I went to medical school in USSR, the country with compulsory military conscription at the time. However, students at universities were exempt from it and had military subject during their study (including basic military training). In my case it was obviously military medicine. At the end of year five (six year course) we had to do "mini-conscription": a month of real live in the Army barracks. It is not as hard as real two year term, but for medical students used to city life and freedom it was very inconvenient and moderately distressing.

My example is about dinner. After a day of digging trenches, running after the tanks in gas masks, getting the "injured" out of tanks and doing other things soldiers do, everyone was really hungry. Dinner usually consisted of porridge or potatoes of some sort with one chunk of meat. Most chunks of meat were mostly fat and sinew, with only couple of them being edible, and all of them were placed in the middle of the table in one bowl. Ten people at the table, ten pieces of meat in the bowl. When given permission to sit the bowl would be passed around so that everyone takes their piece. No. And that's where something completely unexpected happened (and repeated throughout the month). Out of ten people at my table about six behaved in the way you wouldn't expect from well mannered medical students coming from well of families and intelligent parents. At the command to sit down these guys would go at the meat with their hands, grabbing the good piece and shoving it into their mouth. When I pointed their behavior to them I was told something of sorts "don't f**ck around in a large family". I am talking about people I knew for five years previously, good chaps and drinking buddies. All of them went on to becoming doctors.

This was a mild to moderate level of discomfort, and the behavior of people I thought I knew changed so dramatically. Now, do you know what you're going to do when one of the choices involves facing a firing squad? Less dramatically, when your career and financial well being is severely jeopardized? When you are scared, for yourself or your children?

The only reason you think you know someone's character is because you see those people in the same situations. That's the reason I don't judge people's past: I don't know what I would do faced with the choices they had.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#13
Compatibilism only doesn't make sense if you believe that Aristotelian binary logic is the final answer to everything. But it isn't. Is light a wave? Yes. No. Yes and no at the same time. Neither a wave nor not a wave. Even a reasonably straightforward physical phenomenon, light, does not lend itself to a simple description. Why would you expect free will - a very complex phenomenon of the psyche - to be defined in black and white terms?
It doesn't make sense because you have to redefine the word "free" to make compatibilism have any meaning at all.

Additionally, the duality of light seems completely irrelevant? Are you saying wave-particle duality is a refutation of binary logic?

Big fallacy. In my fairly tame life I have seen many examples of how people change when faced with difficult situations. Let me give you one example.
We were discussing the supposedly "robotic" predictability of people so your story seems completely irrelevant.
 
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#16
Besides, I own this thread and can post anything I want, relevant or not
Come on, let's not destroy the discussion like this!
Big fallacy. In my fairly tame life I have seen many examples of how people change when faced with difficult situations. Let me give you one example.

I went to medical school in USSR, the country with compulsory military conscription at the time. However, students at universities were exempt from it and had military subject during their study (including basic military training). In my case it was obviously military medicine. At the end of year five (six year course) we had to do "mini-conscription": a month of real live in the Army barracks. It is not as hard as real two year term, but for medical students used to city life and freedom it was very inconvenient and moderately distressing.

My example is about dinner. After a day of digging trenches, running after the tanks in gas masks, getting the "injured" out of tanks and doing other things soldiers do, everyone was really hungry. Dinner usually consisted of porridge or potatoes of some sort with one chunk of meat. Most chunks of meat were mostly fat and sinew, with only couple of them being edible, and all of them were placed in the middle of the table in one bowl. Ten people at the table, ten pieces of meat in the bowl. When given permission to sit the bowl would be passed around so that everyone takes their piece. No. And that's where something completely unexpected happened (and repeated throughout the month). Out of ten people at my table about six behaved in the way you wouldn't expect from well mannered medical students coming from well of families and intelligent parents. At the command to sit down these guys would go at the meat with their hands, grabbing the good piece and shoving it into their mouth. When I pointed their behavior to them I was told something of sorts "don't f**ck around in a large family". I am talking about people I knew for five years previously, good chaps and drinking buddies. All of them went on to becoming doctors.

This was a mild to moderate level of discomfort, and the behavior of people I thought I knew changed so dramatically. Now, do you know what you're going to do when one of the choices involves facing a firing squad? Less dramatically, when your career and financial well being is severely jeopardized? When you are scared, for yourself or your children?

The only reason you think you know someone's character is because you see those people in the same situations. That's the reason I don't judge people's past: I don't know what I would do faced with the choices they had.
It is an interesting story, but curiously, you stayed in character, and tried to deduce something important from the situation.

Nevertheless, I am not sure what one is supposed to make of that story - I mean it isn't as if the heaviest person grabbed the best chunk and then attacked the others for their meat, or that you ended up with blood on the floor!

Perhaps the real problem is that with technology advancing so fast, we don't really know what the ultimate robot would look like. Some people imagine a robot that could pass as human, others like me don't see that as likely, but we are inevitably extrapolating from what is possible now.

David
 
#17
Come on, let's not destroy the discussion like this!


It is an interesting story, but curiously, you stayed in character, and tried to deduce something important from the situation.

Nevertheless, I am not sure what one is supposed to make of that story - I mean it isn't as if the heaviest person grabbed the best chunk and then attacked the others for their meat, or that you ended up with blood on the floor!

Perhaps the real problem is that with technology advancing so fast, we don't really know what the ultimate robot would look like. Some people imagine a robot that could pass as human, others like me don't see that as likely, but we are inevitably extrapolating from what is possible now.

David
Come on, David, you know I am joking!

The story demonstrates how behaviour of people I thought I knew for five years turned ugly when they were faced with a little bit of adversity. Who knows, if we were not given food for three days, maybe some of us would end up on the floor bleeding.

I don't know what would ideal robot be like. My point is that a lot of our behaviour is governed by very mechanical mechanisms. George Gurdjieff went as far as stating that all humans are machines. Off topic, his ideas are worth looking into anyway:

  • One of man’s important mistakes, one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I.
    Man such as we know him, the "man-machine," the man who cannot "do," and with whom and through whom everything "happens," cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago.
  • The being of two people can differ from one another more than the being of a mineral and of an animal. This is exactly what people do not understand. And they do not understand that knowledge depends on being. Not only do they not understand this latter but they definitely do not wish to understand it.
  • A man can keep silence in such a ways that no one will even notice it. The whole point is that we say a good deal too much. If we limited ourselves to what is actually necessary, this alone would be keeping the silence. And it is the same with everything else, with food, with pleasures, with sleep; with everything there is a limit to what is necessary. After this "sin" begins. This is something that must be grasped, a "sin" is something which is not necessary.
  • Man such as we know him, is a machine.
 
#18
What is it you are looking for here @Small Dog ? This argument has been raging since time immemorial. Are you just looking for debate? That's fine if so, but you seem to be pretty well locked into a belief here (man as machine). Not that others aren't, but I'm curious, are you trying to change minds? Prove you are right? Given the appropriate evidence, would you change your belief, and if so, what would such evidence be required to consist of?

I've seen these kinds of debates here A LOT, and I'm always curious as to why they are started
 
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#20
Besides, I own this thread and can post anything I want, relevant or not.
I am for more discipline in communication. Any question needs a context for logical responses and there are many many answers addressing meanings in life, since there are many levels of abstraction (LoA's) that can give context to the question.

A view of a human as a mechanical biorobot is a perfectly fine abstraction. As long as there are other additional contexts, which see the poetry of life and others that find the coded signals that reveals the universe conversing with itself.

Science contexts - as formally understood academic fields - have organized data to support a process model. Gathering the mechanical actions of people - as zombies without freewill - works as scientific observation and is useful in making accurate simulations. Believing that we are all zombies --- is an indication of way too much sci-fi TV binge watching.
 
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